Deontay Wilder’s most difficult fight has been a long time coming, writes James Dielhenn, but there has never been a more opportune time to make a statement.
Wilder is the longest reigning of the world heavyweight champion triumvirate, the oldest and has had, by some distance, the most pro fights. By the time Anthony Joshua (WBA ‘super and IBF champion) unifies belts with Joseph Parker (WBO) on March 31, Wilder will have had double the amount of fights as the Brit.
And by the time that either Joshua or Parker emerges with three out of four major titles, live on Sky Sports Box Office from the Principality Stadium, Wilder may be twice as dangerous as he currently seems.
We still do not know the ceiling to the WBC heavyweight champion Wilder’s true ability, heading into his 40th fight against unbeaten southpaw Luis Ortiz on March 3, live on Sky Sports. His progress has been slow and he has attracted criticism as a result, but embracing the challenge of the division’s elephant in the room provides Wilder with the welcome opportunity to shut down any disbelievers with one swing of his clubbing right hand.
It is the type of fight that Wilder hasn’t yet been involved in but, for the past two years at least, that hasn’t been entirely his fault.
He was ready to board a plane into Russia, where challengers seldom go willingly let alone defending champions, to make the fourth defence of his WBC title against Alexander Povetkin in May 2016. Povetkin, then 36, was coming off four consecutive stoppage wins over Manuel Charr, Carlos Takam, Mike Perez and Mariusz Wach. It was a mandatory responsibility for Wilder but nevertheless, was due against an experienced and skilled contender one year before Joshua took on Wladimir Klitschko. At the time, Wilder was on course. Povetkin failed a drugs test, losing the opportunity for himself, but also depriving Wilder of a chance to prove what he can do.
It was a similar story with Ortiz last November, when his own drug test failure forced the cancellation of a scheduled date with Wilder. While Joshua was busy basking in his Klitschko victory and working towards his Parker unification, Wilder couldn’t find a willing dance partner.
That hasn’t halted the criticism – not least from Joshua, who insisted that Wilder could have been in Parker’s position. Yet Wilder, by voluntarily accepting a reschedule fight against Ortiz, who is a banana skin to be wary of, finds himself in a powerful position among his heavyweight peers.
If Wilder wraps up his seventh (and, by far, his most impressive) title defence against Ortiz he will pile pressure onto Joshua, who fights four weeks later, to set up a mouth-watering meeting with every belt on the line. Last October, Joshua’s victory over Takam was followed a week later by Wilder brutally taking apart Bermane Stiverne. This time around, Wilder can take the initiative by setting the bar.
He has too often been the subject of disrespect with his wild punching the source of social media scorn – nobody that has shared a ring with Wilder has been laughing. He has knocked out everyone he has boxed, only going the distance in his first win against Stiverne.
Ortiz’s silky style, coupled with a powerful left hand, make him a challenging assignment and he could yet punish Wilder’s ambition. But Wilder might be catching Ortiz, 38, at the perfect time and catching him with a perfect right hand would be as significant a statement as he could wish to make before rival champion Joshua holds up his end of the bargain.